AOPA's pilot photo ID proposal gains support in Congress

March 18, 2002

Influential Senator Max Cleland (D-Ga.) is supporting AOPA's petition to the FAA to require that pilots carry government-issued photo identification (driver's license, passport, etc.) with them whenever they pilot an aircraft. That ID, matched with the information on a FAA pilot certificate, would positively identify legitimate pilots.

In a letter to FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, Sen. Cleland wrote, "This petition is an inexpensive and simple security enhancement that can be implemented immediately to address the public's concerns that pilot certificates are little more than flimsy pieces of paper."

Cleland's endorsement is important because he sponsored an amendment in the Aviation Security Act expanding the airman registry to combat terrorism. One of the central issues in addressing general aviation security is the ability to immediately identify general aviation pilots. Cleland told Garvey, "AOPA's petition would provide a good interim step in achieving this goal."

AOPA President Phil Boyer welcomed the endorsement saying, "Senator Cleland clearly recognizes the value of this common-sense, low-cost, and easy-to-implement measure. We appreciate his leadership on this issue."

In the petition submitted to the FAA in February, AOPA asked the FAA to issue a "direct final rule" that would require pilots to carry a valid, government-issued photo ID whenever in command of an aircraft. Under the association's proposal, a driver's license, passport, or government agency photo ID could be acceptable.

The rule could go into effect within 30 days after the FAA were to publish it. The FAA is still considering AOPA's petition.

The FAA already requires a driver's license for security identification. Airline passengers must present a driver's license or similar photo ID to pass through airport security. The FAA requires prospective pilots to show a driver's license before taking an FAA written exam or flight test.

General aviation pilots support the driver's license proposal, according to informal surveys of AOPA members across the nation. "After all, you need a license to drive to the airport," Boyer said.

"The FAA is still considering its own photo ID system," said Boyer. "But it could take up to five years for the FAA to implement such a system, and it would cost millions of dollars to get it started. The FAA would spend an additional $2 million a year just to run the system."

There are currently some 630,000 active pilots in the United States (meaning they have current medical certificates and are legal to fly at this moment), plus an additional 530,000 people holding nonpilot airman certificates (mechanics, flight engineers, ground instructors, etc.) Since 1950, the FAA has issued more than three million pilot certificates alone. That means the FAA could be facing a demand to issue millions of photo IDs if it were to try to do it itself.

A copy of AOPA's petition is available online.

The 380,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. Nearly two thirds of the nation's pilots and three quarters of the aircraft owners are AOPA members.

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